Light, part I

One of the hardest lessons for amateur photographers to learn is being able to see the light. What do I mean by “see the light”? When we photograph a subject, what we’re really doing is capturing the way the light is illuminating that subject at a given moment in time. Light is variable… the angle, intensity, direction and color of the light can drastically alter both the appearance of the subject, and the mood evoked by the photograph. Let’s look at the three examples below…


In the first photo, the light is coming from the front left.


In the second photo, the light is coming from behind, and slightly to the left.


In the third and final photo, the light is again coming from front left, but this time it’s coming from below rather than above.

Same subject, same perspective, yet three very different looking, and very different “feeling” photos. Each photo evokes a different mood, and emphasizes a different aspect of the subject – tone, texture, shape, etc.

In this particular case the subject was being lit by flash, so I was controlling that mood, and deciding what aspects of the subject to highlight.  Most of the time, photographing nature means dealing with natural light. A photographer must learn to read the light, and recognize when the light is at it’s best, in terms of being able to highlight the interesting aspects of the subject.  He must also learn to understand how various types of light communicate specific moods or feelings.

Next time, we’ll talk about the different kinds of light. We’ll also talk about the types of light that are most flattering to various subjects.

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